Match inner Dan Parks resumes his half-back partnership with Scotland captain Chris Cusiter while wing Max Evans lines out in the centre on this occasion and partners Graeme Morrison. Up front, the celebrated back-row of Kelly Brown, John Beattie and John Barclay resume their highly effective partnership while second-row Richie Gray, a replacement at Croke Park, is chosen in the second row.
Alistair Kellock is the only absentee from their Scottish contingent but the strength of the side chosen by coach Sean Lineen certainly lives up to his contention last night that “every game from now on is a Grand Final”. In contrast, his Munster counterpart, Tony McGahan, has rested Tomás O’Leary, Keith Earls, John Hayes, Paul O’Connell and David Wallace, leaving Donncha O’Callaghan as the only one of the starting Irish XV in the home side which, however, is led by Ronan O’Gara and contains another Irish replacement in Tony Buckley.
Glasgow and Munster are currently locked together in a share of second place along with Edinburgh, each with 34 points from 13 games, but well off the pace currently being set by Leinster (12 played – 38 points). So this is a game of vital importance to both participants, a point well made by Sean Lineen.
“Munster are level with us on points and remain the team in the Magners League in terms of consistency,” he said. “It’s great to have our Scotland players back and the squad is full of enthusiasm. Every game is now a Grand Final. Munster’s forwards are very unforgiving and there is a fantastic atmosphere at Thomond Park. The players need to look forward to the whole occasion and enjoy it.”
Glasgow are travelling with the clear intention of further raising the morale of Scottish rugby after last Saturday’s result at Croke Park. They have become something of a “bogey” side for Munster, winning the first meeting of the sides this season by 22-9 at Firhill and completing the double in 2005/06. Nevertheless, Munster lead 7-5 in the series of matches between the sides with one draw and in spite of the undoubted strength of the visiting squad, the presence of O’Gara and O’Callaghan should help the Munster cause appreciably.
They certainly need a boost, given their disappointing form of recent weeks, during which they scraped wins over the Scarlets and Edinburgh but were well beaten away at the Dragons. While they have struggled on the road, Munster have won their last 16 home games in all competitions since the loss to Ulster in January 2009.
O’Gara skippers a side containing 18 of those who featured in the match day 22 against Scarlets a week ago with Alan Quinlan and Denis Hurley among those restored to the starting XV.
Lifeimi Mafi returns, having been suspended for seeing yellow three times during the tournament, although Doug Howlett this time starts on the bench. Tony Buckley’s appearances off the bench for Ireland should help his self belief and spread on to the set piece in general while Marcus Horan on the other side of the front row will be anxious to remind Irish coach Declan Kidney that he is still around, with the summer tour of New Zealand and Australia in mind.
In the shorter term, there promises to be a mighty battle for the Munster back-row position vacated by the injured Denis Leamy when it comes to the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Northampton in two weeks. Two strong candidates, Niall Ronan and James Coughlan, are in the starting line-up tonight with the in-form Billy Holland hoping for game time off the replacement panel.
Forearmed is forewarned, they say, and given the presence of Dan Parks in the Glasgow side, Munster will surely pay a severe penalty if they continue to display the kind of poor discipline that has them at the bottom of the Magners League’s Fair Play table.
“They are definitely one of those teams who put the penalties over,” said Munster manager Shaun Payne. “They have always given us trouble. You hate to call any team a bogey team but we have struggled against them in the past. They’re a tough side, they always travel with a lot of confidence and the Scotland win last week will also be a positive for them. They’re out of the Heineken Cup so a place in the Magners play-offs is massive for them.”
Centre Barry Murphy makes a welcome return to action at the weekend when he lines out for his club UL Bohemian in the AIB League game against Garryowen at Dooradoyle. Murphy limped out of the Magners League game with Dragons after just nine minutes back in September and has been unable to play since.
MUNSTER: P Warwick; D Hurley, L Mafi, J de Villiers, I Dowling; R O’Gara capt, P Stringer; M Horan, D Fogarty, T Buckley; D O’Callaghan, M O’Driscoll; A Quinlan, N Ronan, J Coughlan. Replacements: D Varley, D Ryan, B Holland, N Williams, D Williams, T Gleeson, D Howlett.
GLASGOW: B. Stortoni; P. Murchie, M. Evans, G. Morrison, DTH van der Merwe; D. Parks, C. Cusiter; J. Welsh, D. Hall, M. Law, R. Gray, D. Turner, K. Brown, J. Barclay capt, J. Beattie. Replacements – F. Thomson, K. Tkachuk, T. Barker, R. Vernon, M. McMillan, C. Gregor, H. O’Hare.
Referee: James Jones (Wales).